The "first look" concept seems a bit antiquated to me, since presumably there have been thousands of looks since you first met (although I do understand the emotional build up and release upon seeing each other that day). Also, I'm hoping he thinks you're pretty darn awesome already, or he wouldn't be marrying you, so dressing up to impress him specifically for the wedding shouldn't make a smidgen of difference in whether he says "I do". So what is it, exactly, that has us all (myself included) expending so much valuable brainspace and dollars on creating an appropriately stunning first look moment?
It's a complicated answer, but I think it has a lot to do with the unspoken subtext of gender roles: He's marrying well/successfully if she is beautiful armcandy, and she's marrying well if he has $$ to support her or some such BS. Why else would we subject ourselves to a seriously expensive dresses, hair, makeup, manicures, facials, accessories, and weight loss regimens (with our husband-to-be's support) if underneath it all we weren't grasping somewhat for that "first look" public approval moment? Why else would "bride style" be such a magazine/blog/personal obsession when men's style issues are only discussed in passing (tux vs suit, dark vs seersucker, boutonnieres, etc.) We've clearly elevated the importance of female attractiveness in a way that has nothing to do with the wedding or marriage as we chase that collective gasp.
I battle with my unspoken need for superficial approvals everyday and the wedding is just messing with my head even more. I'm already more nervous about the wedding and the pictures than I feel comfortable expressing to friends in real life. I want to be the badass feminist and say eff-it. But... I'm not going to. I'm going to consciously choose to take part in much of d*mn prettifying madness, including the parts that go well beyond my standard comfort zone of makeup, heels, and some killer accessories. I'm going to feel conflicted about it the entire time, but I'm going to do it anyhow.
You might be asking why. Heck, I'm asking why. And the only answer I can come up with isn't very satisfying: It's because I want to feel pretty. I hate myself for this, but I just want to feel spectacularly pretty for one day. Lots of women might want to tell me that it's perfectly okay and normal to want to be pretty on your wedding day but, while I think it's "normal", I'm not sure if it's okay for me. It goes against my very core values to chase unattainable physical ideals and against my financial values to spend several months rent in the pursuit of one day's attractiveness.
Oh, it's not several months rent, you say? Here's the math:
- Dress: $1000 for dress and alterations, if I'm lucky
- Hair and Makeup: $400 onsite, if I'm lucky
- Shoes: $100
- Hair flower: $35
- Jewelery: $100
- Facial: $100
- Mani pedi: $35
- Teeth whitening: $600
- Boot camp, so I actually stick with my exercise goals: $200
- Weight Watchers: $40 per month for 6 months = $240
You can quibble about the pricing and about whether list list is strictly wedding related (I've been saving to get my teeth whitened since I quit smoking, I pay for Weight Watchers anyhow, I try to get facials every six-nine months because my skin is problematic, I get mani/pedis once every few months, I've done boot camp before to kick start a fitness program, I can wear cute shoes again, I can sell the dress and recoup a few hundred bucks, etc) but the point is that I'm seriously considering all of these, with an eye to the single d*mn wedding day. I KNOW it's effing insane. I'm an earnest, analytical feminist and have an intense hatred for the chasing-youth-and-photoshopped-beauty ideal our culture has elevated in recent years, and yet here I am with a ridiculous price list for things I want that have nothing to do with a wedding or a marriage or my love with J. I have no problem with any of these things on their own (notice that I participate in quite a few of the prettifying rituals on a regular basis myself) but I have a real problem with them all getting wrapped up into the image of a pretty bride.
It's not just me feeling these pressures - it's the whole darn issue with what a bride "should" be. When I casually mentioned to my mother that I was considering DIY hair and makeup because of cost, she (to put it mildly) freaked out and offered to pay for everything. So it's not just me, it's my normally sensible mother who is also willing to drop $$$ to help her daughter look beautiful specifically for the wedding day.
I've often said J would be happy if I walked down the aisle in a burlap sack. He'd be a bit shocked and his grandparents would be scandalized, but he'd still be grinning like a fiend when it came time to say the vows.
Miu Miu Pleated Burlap Sack Dress at Net-a-Porter. No, really, it's a $1200 burlap sack dress
So I know none of this matters. I could buy a $100 white dress from a department store and be done with it. In fact, if I asked, J would probably rate me at about an 8 on his attractiveness scale, regardless of what wedding dress I wear or makeup I apply. Even when I'm at my grossest he tells me I'm the prettiest woman he's ever been with. I hear him, I believe he's being honest, and I adore the compliments. However, I've never internalized them. (On a good day, I put myself around a 5 or 6. And there's nothing effortless about my 5/6 level beauty. It's hard earned via makeup, straightening irons and a lot of note-taking about flattering fits during What Not To Wear.) I've always been the smart girl, not the pretty girl, and it feels like my wedding day is a huge chance to shine as the smart and pretty girl.
I'm not happy about my self confidence issues and I'm not happy about elevating superficial aspects of the wedding with such a massive price tag. But I'm nervous about photos. And I'm nervous about being the center of attention. And I'm nervous about people turning around, hoping for a collective gasp moment and getting left with "meh." And it would be really nice to not get "meh" for once, and apparently that's worth a pretty hefty price tag for me. It would also be nice to finally have some great photos or me and us (generally, I resort to class-clown antics and make silly faces in my photos so people don't notice how average-looking I can be in snapshots.)
What's the point of this post? I'm not exhorting anyone to give up their wedding day prettifying but I do think we should be willing to look more closely at why we make our wedding decisions instead of just assuming all brides should aim for drop-dead-gorgeous beauty. I'm not entirely comfortable with the answers I've come up with for myself, but I'm determined to take ownership of my superficiality by finding ways to be more comfortable with it (and the purchases that come along with it). This might mean ethical purchases and a simpler aesthetic look overall, and it certainly means prioritizing items that I already value (like Weight Watchers and generally healthy living) over items that have no long-term value (teeth whitening). Instead of going for a princess-transformative-ballgown look, I'm aiming for simple elegance. I want to be me, but I also want to be my best version of me, and I'm having a difficult time not crossing the line into full brideland costuming. Putting the prices down on a list helps me gain some perspective on the insanity, but the desire to be "pretty" is still very much there. Besides stepping away from the pretty magazine and blog images, how has everyone else managed these internal conflicts?
*Please excuse the hetero-normative wedding description, but I think the first look issues are predominantly based in gender role questions. It doesn't mean that female appearance issues don't affect lesbian couples, but I think they're rooted in the male/female relationship construct.
**Yes, this number is completely absurd. And no, I'm probably not going to get everything on this list. But the point is that I've seriously considered it.